Release type: Speech

Date:

Speech to the Annual General meeting of the Association of Independent Schools

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thank you for that warm welcome.

I want to begin with a few acknowledgements.

Firstly, of course, I’d like to recognize the original owners of the land on which we meet – the Eora people. It really does bode well for the future of reconciliation that our schools were among the strongest supporters of the Prime Minister’s historic parliamentary apology to the Stolen Generations in February. The way teachers and students across the nation stopped for that event and debated its significance fills me with confidence that the next generation will handle reconciliation better than the last.

Our schools are where a better future is being made – and it’s from them that the opportunities for Indigenous Australians must come.

I also want to thank a few people for inviting me along to this important AGM to hear from you and talk to you about some of the Government’s plans for schooling:

  • Geoff Newcombe (Executive Director, AISNSW);
  • John Ralston (Chairman, AISNSW); and
  • Bill Daniels (Executive Director, Independent Schools Council of Australia).

And, of course, you – the parents, teachers and administrators who make Australia’s independent schools such valuable examples of places of learning.

OUR COOPERATION – ESSENTIAL TO THE NATION’S FUTURE

With a newly elected Government, with a fresh mandate to undertake an education revolution, it is an exciting time to be involved in schools policy.

Over this term of this parliament and hopefully beyond, the Government will be implementing positive and ambitious change in our schools.

Of course while we intend to lead change, the Government can’t do it all on our own.

We need your help.

Over the last 18 months in opposition and in government, Kevin Rudd’s team has developed what I hope you will agree is a strong and trusted relationship with the Association and the independent schools sector generally.

If we are honest, we have to admit that our relationship hasn’t always been so constructive. But I think we can safely say that those disagreements are behind us.

Instead of so-called ‘hit lists’, we have lists of things we agree on. And lists of urgent educational priorities for the country.

All of us – the Government, public schools, independent schools and Catholic schools – ultimately have the same interest: ensuring every Australian child gets the very best education possible to equip them to be citizens of the global age. I don’t pretend that everybody will have the same view or the same interest on every issue. But I am confident in our shared purpose.

With 490,000 students attending 1,000 independent schools, using some 43 percent of federal and 12 percent of state school recurrent funding, our cooperation is absolutely essential to the future of the country.

It is education – starting in the early years, going through our schools and extending to TAFE, universities and beyond – that will shape the future productivity and wellbeing of Australia.

And I want to reiterate here the Government’s support for the full right of parents to choose the school that best meets the needs of their child.

I want to reassure you that every one of the commitments about funding and resources we made prior to the election will be honoured.

We understand that all schools need certainty and stability, and that is why we have committed to the current funding arrangements for 2009 to 2012, including the commitment to funding guarantees and funding maintenance. Let me spell it out. We will maintain the funding levels, including indexation, of non-government schools.

Where a school’s SES score changes we will guarantee that school’s level of funding until the funding level generated by their new score reaches the level of funding that they currently receive.

We have made our commitments and we will stick to them

At the same time, we need to lift our sights towards the longer term issues. As the recent research briefing from the Australian Council of Education Research illustrates, Australia’s school funding system is one of the most complex, most opaque, and most confusing in the developed world.

I do not believe that this serves the interests of students and their families, or of schools and teachers.

In fact, this lack of transparency has served to heighten the atmosphere of uncertainty and mutual suspicion which has characterised the politics of education in Australia over the last decade.

So we will be reviewing the schools funding model, with a process which I anticipate will conclude in 2011. This review will help us ensure that we can build the strongest possible platform for long term investment and improvement in educational outcomes beyond 2012, the year when the next Quadrennial Funding will conclude.

It is early days, but we want a proper dialogue. And everyone with an interest in the outcome, including the AIS, will have full opportunity to contribute their views. More detailed decisions about how the review will be undertaken and suitable terms of reference will be settled in due course.

Funding is a crucial issue for schools. And as last week’s Budget demonstrated, the Government is committed to significantly increasing national investment in education at all levels. Measured by long-term financial and social returns it is simply the best investment we can make.

EXCELLENCE MUST FOCUS ON QUALITY

Sometimes, however, the question of how we fund schools – and specifically disagreements about which sector should get which resources – prevents us from concentrating on the proper focus of our efforts: the needs of each individual student.

I believe it’s time we got beyond the public versus private divide that has blighted our education debates for so long and replaced it with a debate about the quality of education and how we can guarantee that every child, no matter how rich or how poor, gets the best education possible.

That means in addition to discussing resourcing, we need to discuss quality.

Specifically:

  • The substance of our curriculum
– because when it comes down to it, curriculum is more important than concrete.
  • The commitment to rigorous academic standards
  • – because the answer to educational disadvantage is never to be tolerant of failure or to expect second-best.
  • The professionalism of our teachers
  • – because, as the recent McKinsey report into successful schools concludes, a school can only be as good as its teachers.
  • The quality of school leadership
  • – because outstanding leaders can turn around failure in ways that money alone just cannot do.
  • And the way we teach, including the way we use ICT
  • – because in the global age, when students must show initiative, leadership, cooperation, cultural understanding and technological sophistication, it is not just what we teach but how we teach it that counts.

    Our schools need to become more flexible and innovative in the way they teach.

    Where possible, they should reach out to the community – to universities, business and other areas – to share expertise, work together and find out what the people who rely most upon them really need.

    THE BUDGET – DELIVERING ON THESE PRIORITIES

    Last week’s Budget began the process of delivering on our promises in each of these areas.

    Every school in every system will be able to benefit from the new initiatives and funding we announced:

    • $577 million over four years to improve literacy and numeracy.
    • $1.2 billion over five years for the Digital Education Revolution – including $1.1 billion for the National Secondary School Computer Fund and $100 million for Fibre Connections to Schools.
    • $2.5 billion over ten years for Trade Training Centres in Schools to give students an entry to jobs in traditional trades and emerging industries.
    • $20 million over four years to establish a National Curriculum Board to ensure all children have access to the highest quality learning programs.
    • $62.4 million over three years for National Asian Languages in Schools Program to increase the numbers of students proficient in Japanese, Indonesian, Chinese and Korean.
    • $62.5 million for Local Schools Working Together, which is specifically about improving the way that schools from different sectors share resources, infrastructure and expertise in ways which benefit all of their students.
    • And of course in addition to these and other programs, eligible parents will be able to reclaim 50% of family expenses on essential education items like software and text books: up to $375 for each child in primary school and $750 for each secondary school student as part of our $4.4 billion Education Tax Refund. We want to encourage all parents to invest more in their children’s education and to make education more affordable.

    BUILDING ON PARTNERSHIP TO RAISE QUALITY FOR ALL

    Our aim, across these policies, is to invest in the facilities, the equipment and the specialist expertise that will enable every Australian child to achieve their full potential in the 21st century.

    To achieve that goal, we also need to reform our systems of delivery so that they support the best possible practices in teaching, school organisation, community partnership and family engagement.

    We will not achieve that aim if we allow the focus of education debate to be consumed by a zero-sum competition between different sectors, or by policy decisions which are not grounded in the best possible evidence.

    That is why, in my view, it does not serve the interests of Australian students to have schooling policies delivered through structures and reporting systems which operate in parallel but allow no meaningful comparison or exchange between them.

    Where there is excellence and innovation, it should be something that is celebrated, evaluated and used as a source of learning for other educators. This is true whether it occurs in a government school, a religious school or an independent school, and indeed whether it is a practice developed in Australia or overseas.

    In reality, there are examples of excellence, and examples of unacceptable underperformance, in schools of every sector. I do not think it serves anybody’s interests to perpetuate the assumption that certain types of school are inherently, or even generally, likely to perform better because of their sectoral status.

    Of course, there will always be differences of view, and differences of interest, across our very diverse school systems and jurisdictions. But our challenge is to use that diversity as the basis for strength, to deliver outcomes that are, in the long term, to the benefit of all.

    For example, independent schools are already in the vanguard of the education revolution in some areas particularly in improving already high standards of teacher quality.

    Recently the ISCA indicated that its members in more than 100 schools nationwide are interested in trying out new models of teacher reward and performance management.

    And I want to commend the AISNSW and the Independent Education Union for developing an innovative career structure for teachers that rewards and encourages excellence.

    I’m extremely pleased to have the opportunity later this evening to present Certificates of Accreditation to outstanding teachers at the level of Classroom and Professional Excellence – this being the top level of accreditation available under the new pay scheme.

    A NEW COMMITMENT TO TRANSPARENCY: SES AND TACKLING DISADVANTAGE

    If we are going to maximise the positive impact of examples like these, we need to be taking decisions based on the best possible information. That is true whether you are a parent, a school principal, or an education minister.

    Making changes of this magnitude isn’t going to be easy. As part of our national reform agenda, I am committed to improving transparency of information which will serve better decision-making.

    That is why as a step towards this greater transparency, tonight I want to announce that I will be publicly releasing the new indicative Socio Economic Status scores for all non-government schools, based on the 2006 national census data, and which will be used to determine school funding levels for 2009 to 2012.

    These scores have been released to schools and to non-government school authorities. They will also be published on my Department’s website shortly.

    All parents and taxpayers have a right to know the basis on which funding increases are being granted to our nation’s schools. This is the way to end suspicion and misunderstanding.

    The data gives us some important clues about the socio-economic changes occurring across the country.

    While the socio-economic status (SES) score of some schools has increased, for others it has gone down.

    In New South Wales, 18 per cent of schools experienced no change in SES score. 51 per cent generated a lower score, while 30 per cent generated a higher score. Of the almost 1600 metropolitan schools across Australia, 33 per cent generated lower scores than in 2005-2008, 20 per cent stayed the same and 43 per cent generated higher scores. In contrast, in outer regional and remote areas around 60 per cent of schools have generated lower SES scores.

    This tells us something about broad spatial trends in our country; about how the economy is changing and how the distribution of people, occupations and incomes may be changing.

    What it certainly shows is that it is not really possible any more to generalise about any one schoolsystemas rich or poor because it is public or private.

    Some non-government schools serve some less affluent communities, and some public schools serve some more affluent communities.

    Once we grasp this fact, we can see clearly that it’s not schoolsystemsbut schoolcommunitiesto whom we must target school resources.

    That is precisely why, in the development of the next Schools Funding Agreement, we have made assistance to low SES school communities a priority. Simply channeling money towards one kind of school or another does not, in itself, automatically produce a better outcome.

    What I’m saying is that we need to look at using tools similar to or developed from SES to help us direct additional resources to all schools, public and private and in that way that is targeted to the real needs of the student.

    This type of reform is needed because our research tells us that, generally, the lower a community’s socio-economic status, the lower the educational performance of its students.

    In recent years, too many students have been left behind by the changes going on in the school system, and in the wider economy. We know that if they do not achieve the basics at school, the chances of their succeeding in tomorrow’s economy are drastically worsened. And we know that there are some schools and communities who succeed against the odds.

    We know that, sadly, this is most true for Indigenous communities and it’s why we’ve set ambitious targets to reduce the gaps between Indigenous and other students in reading, literacy, numeracy and year-12 outcomes.

    As part of our effort to close this gap, I can also announce today that I have decided to change the basis on which remote Indigenous schools are categorised for funding purposes.

    Most schools with significant proportions of Indigenous enrolments, particularly in very remote areas, draw students from very small Census Districts, and we know that their scores can be affected significantly by small changes in district boundaries, population, or even sampling adjustments by the ABS.

    For those reasons, I have decided that from 2009 the Australian Government will provide maximum funding to schools that have more than 80 per cent Indigenous students in any year, and for schools in very remote areas which have more than 50 per cent Indigenous students.

    Despite the fact that low socioeconomic status and low educational attainment are strongly associated with each other, we know something else.

    Some schools, some communities and some students are succeeding against the odds. Disadvantage is not destiny.

    That is why this process – of moving to a more consistent and transparent system of directing new resources to all schools, in a way that will promote universal excellence – has been placed firmly on the National Reform Agenda.

    A NEW COMMITMENT TO TRANSPARENCY: NATIONAL DATA CENTRE

    But better, faster progress in addressing this national priority is held back by the fragmented, contested and incredibly slow processes we have in this country for collating and analysing information about how schools and students are performing.

    This year, for the first time, all students in all schools have sat national tests in literacy and numeracy. We are now working towards a national curriculum. But our ability to understand and interpret student outcomes accurately is constrained by the inability of our different jurisdictions and systems to agree on the proper ways of collecting, collating and analysing the relevant information.

    So, in this year’s Budget, I have committed $17.2 million for the establishment of a National Data Centre for handling and analysing information on school and student performance.

    In other fields, new technologies and methods of analysis are creating amazing new ways to combine and apply different sources of data. Some of you, or perhaps your children and students, will have used Google Earth to look at spatial information in startling new ways, including being able to zero in on your own home from outer space.

    Other enterprising researchers are using open source software to map the relationships between GDP and outcomes like child mortality in accessible, interactive ways. Area-based data about outcomes for different population groups, including children, is increasingly being used to plan local services and infrastructure. We need the full power of these developments to assist in the process of raising educational standards.

    I fully understand that in past debates, and probably in future ones, different stakeholders around Australia have viewed the treatment of performance information by the Commonwealth Government from very different perspectives.

    But while different jurisdictions and authorities treat the use of data as part of a competition between themselves, they are short-changing the students and families who rely on them for a high quality education.

    In many areas of information policy, including vital national statistics, that is why we have independent agencies and institutional structures to validate and report in the public interest.

    That is exactly what I have in mind for this body. I would expect the States and Territories to contribute to part of its running costs, and I would expect it to operate according to protocols and standards which reflected the shared interests of all school systems in Australia.

    I also do not expect that it will be concerned solely with national testing data. We are also rolling out the Australian Early Development Index, an indicator of how children are faring at a much younger age. I know that there will be many other relevant sources of data, and I want to promote a more sophisticated understanding of what influences educational success.

    I am not, repeat not, interested in establishing a crude form of league table which simply ranks schools according to their raw test results.

    Above all, I believe that there is an overwhelming public interest in developing a more comprehensive, more reliable, and more open picture of school and student performance in this country and the factors that influence it.

    CONCLUSION: A UNIFIED APPROACH TO FUNDING

    Greater transparency would help us in the quest to lift standards, and to send new resources where they will make greatest difference.

    But in addition to funding crucial new programs, it also serves a larger goal. And that is to build community support for a nation-building project that can finally put the public versus private divide behind us and move to a more consistent and legitimate system of schools funding that focuses on students.

    We used to say that we wanted funding to follow need.

    But I think we have to aim higher. What we really need is for funding to pursue excellence.

    Excellence for every child in every school.

    As you can understand, this will involve a huge change in the way we resource and support schools in Australia – or, rather, the way we fund students, because it is their interests, not the interests of any school system that must be our true priority.

    Our goal is nothing short of closing the sectoral and social divides that have resulted in too many Australian students not receiving the best education we can give them.

    In recent years we’ve seen a noticeable increase in the enrolments in independent schools.

    Many have asked why this is.

    Certainly resource levels and the capacity of parents to pay in a time of economic growth have played a role.

    But ultimately I think it’s because many people see the independent sector as having a strong commitment to the kind of quality that parents know instinctively are important to their child’s education – the sorts of things I’ve mentioned tonight: the right curriculum, strong standards, quality teaching, good leadership and necessary resources.

    As I said, this is often true of non-government schools. It is also true of many excellent public schools which do not always benefit from the same favourable assumptions. But it is only right that our judgments about the quality of education should be supported by rigorous, transparent information, and backed by meaningful resources.

    I want us to resolve that every Australian child should have access to this level of quality in their education.

    It’s not a question of redistributing funds, or competing between ourselves.

    It’s not about envy or about seeking ‘position’ or advantage.

    It’s simply about something that everyone involved in the teaching profession accepts as a guiding principle – that every child deserves the very best education.

    That means pressing forward with two key conclusions:

    That it is not school systems, but school communities, that we should be resourcing in order to achieve more.

    And that disadvantage is not destiny, despite its association with underachievement.

    As we set out to build a better education system for every child, I want to draw on the excellence of the independent system and the lessons it can provide. I want it to share the responsibility for improvement, and the accountability for results.

    By keeping strong the relationship we have developed, we can achieve this and play our part in making the education revolution possible for every student.

    Thank you.